In one of several cases from Houston decided Friday, the Texas Supreme Court clears up some of the confusion created by the partially overlapping jurisdictions and partially exclusive jurisdiction of the Civil District Courts and the County Civil Courts at Law (CCCL#1 2 3 and 4) in Harris County.
AIC Management v. Crews, No. 05-0270 (Tex. Jan 25, 2008)(O’Neill) (condemnation, sufficiency of legal description, UDJA, jurisdiction of Harris County Civil Courts at Law)
Note: Only the portion of the opinion addressing the jurisdiction issue is copied below:
Which has got the jurisdiction?
HOLDING: We hold that, pursuant to section 25.1032(c)(1) of the Texas Government Code, the county court had jurisdiction to decide issues of title arising out of the condemnation suit irrespective of the amount in controversy.
AIC contests the jurisdiction of the trial court, a county civil court at law in Harris County, to resolve what it characterizes as a title dispute. We consider this point first.
AIC’s argument concerns the interplay between the amount-in-controversy limitations of the general jurisdictional grant to statutory county courts, Tex. Gov’t Code § 25.0003, the exclusive jurisdictional grant to district courts for disputes involving title issues, Tex. Prop. Code § 21.002, and a more specific jurisdictional grant to statutory county courts in Harris County, Tex. Gov’t Code § 25.1032. Generally, the subject-matter jurisdiction of statutory county courts is limited to “cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not exceed $100,000.” Id. § 25.0003(c)(1). Without reference to amounts in controversy, the Texas Property Code requires a county court at law before which an eminent-domain proceeding is pending to transfer the case to the district court upon determining that the controversy involves “an issue of title.” Tex. Prop. Code § 21.002. Finally, section 25.1032 of the Government Code contains, in pertinent part, the following specific jurisdictional grant to Harris County civil courts at law:
(a) A county civil court at law in Harris County has jurisdiction over all civil matters and causes, original and appellate, prescribed by law for county courts . . .
(c) A county civil court at law has exclusive jurisdiction in Harris County of eminent domain proceedings, both statutory and inverse, regardless of the amount in controversy. In addition to other jurisdiction provided by law, a county civil court at law has jurisdiction to:
(1) decide the issue of title to real or personal property
* * *
Tex. Gov’t Code § 25.1032.
Under section 25.1032’s plain language, the county civil courts at law in Harris County have exclusive jurisdiction over eminent-domain proceedings and may decide issues of title to real property. AIC contends, however, that this specific jurisdictional grant does not extend to title disputes which exceed the maximum $100,000 jurisdictional limit for statutory county courts. Because the property at issue in this case exceeds $100,000 in value, AIC contends, section 21.002 of the Property Code divested the county court of jurisdiction and required transfer of the case to the district court. We disagree.
The $100,000 cap on county court jurisdiction appears in chapter 25 of the Government Code under subchapter A, entitled “General Provisions.” Id. § 25.0003(c). The first section of that subchapter states that, “[i]f a provision of this subchapter conflicts with a specific provision for a particular court or county, the specific provision controls.” Id. § 25.0001(a). Section 25.1032, which appears in subchapter C, defines the specific jurisdiction of county civil courts at law in Harris County. Id. § 25.1032. That section vests exclusive jurisdiction over eminent-domain proceedings in Harris County in the county civil courts at law. Id. § 25.1032(c). Subsection (1) also grants those courts jurisdiction to decide the issue of title to real property, which section 25.1032(c) provides is “in addition to other jurisdiction provided by law.” Id. Section 25.1032(c)(1) thus bases the county civil courts’ jurisdiction on the type of claim, not the amount of money in dispute. See Haas v. Ashford Hollow Cmty. Improvement Ass’n, 209 S.W.3d 875, 880 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, no pet.); see also Taub v. Aquila Sw. Pipeline Corp., 93 S.W.3d 451, 458 (Tex. App.— Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, no pet.); In re Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 12 S.W.3d 891, 899 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, no pet.). We conclude that, in Harris County, the county civil courts’ jurisdiction to decide issues of title arising out of condemnation proceedings is in addition to their general concurrent jurisdiction described in section 25.0003(c) and is not dependent upon the amount in controversy.
AIC cites our decision in City of Houston v. West, 520 S.W.2d 752 (Tex. 1975), to support its contention that the county court lacked jurisdiction to decide issues of title in this case. In West, which involved an eminent-domain proceeding, we held that an issue of title was involved that required transfer to the district court for resolution. Id. at 754. Our decision, though, preceded the Legislature’s specific jurisdictional grant to county civil courts at law in Harris County over eminent-domain and title issues, Tex. Gov’t Code § 25.1032(c). Accordingly, our decision in West has no application here.
In interpreting statutes, we examine the language the Legislature chose and may also consider the object sought to be obtained. See id. § 311.023(1). The legislative history indicates that section 25.1032, which vested exclusive jurisdiction over eminent-domain proceedings in Harris County in the county civil courts, was originally enacted to alleviate a caseload imbalance between underutilized county courts and overburdened district courts in Harris County. House Comm. on Judicial Affairs, Bill Analysis, Tex. H.B. 1110, 69th Leg., R.S. (1985). The statute was subsequently amended to “raise the amount in controversy limit . . . and expand [county courts’] jurisdiction with respect to other causes of action,” again due to the heavy pending caseload in the Harris County district courts and the availability of speedier resolution in the county courts. See Act of May 15, 1989, 71st Leg., R.S., ch. 445, § 1, 1989 Tex. Gen. Laws 1605, 1606; Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 25.1032, Historical and Statutory Notes; Tex. Sen. Jurisprudence Comm., Bill Analysis, Tex. H.B. 1795, 71st Leg., R.S. (1989). The statutory language vesting jurisdiction in the county courts based on the type of claim rather than the amount in controversy is consistent with this purpose. We conclude that the county court at law had subject-matter jurisdiction to resolve any title dispute between AIC and the Crewses arising out of the City’s eminent-domain proceeding, and now turn to the deeds themselves.
AIC MANAGEMENT v. RHONDA S. CREWS, CURTIS CALDWELL CREWS, ANNETTE CREWS, DENISE CLAUDEN CREWS, AND CLAUDE CREWS, JR., THE HEIRS OF EMMA CREWS, VALDA CREWS, AND EVA FAY GROSS, AND ALDINE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT; from Harris County; 1st district (No. 01-03 01178-CV, ___ S.W.3d ___, 02-03-2005) (Opinion of the First Court of Appeals - by Higley)
The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and remands the case to the trial court. Justice O'Neill delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Willett filed a concurring opinion.